updated 10/30/2006 9:58:07 PM ET 2006-10-31T02:58:07

Twelve people have been charged with tricking voters in Orange County into registering as Republicans, prosecutors said Monday.

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The defendants, ranging in age from 19 to 52, were accused of fraudulently registering 37 voters as Republicans between August 2005 and February 2006. Democrats, Green Party members and a noncitizen were registered as Republicans, prosecutors said.

The suspects were hired to register new Republicans by private firms paid by the Orange County Republican Party, prosecutors said. The recruiters worked for the firm Bader & Associates, as well as a subcontractor, John Burkett. Both have said they no longer work on voter registration drives.

No charges were filed against the companies or the Republican Party.

The recruiters visited shopping centers and college campuses and were paid $10 a head for newly registered Republicans in a district represented by U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat, prosecutors said.

Voters were asked to sign petitions for lower taxes or stricter sex offender laws, then tricked into signing voter registration cards, Orange County prosecutor Anthony Rackauckas said. Other information was filled in using voters’ driver’s licenses, he said.

County Democratic Party officials said they have filed more than 500 verified complaints of fraud in the drive.

The 12 defendants were charged with fraudulent completion of affidavit of registration, a felony. Five defendants remain at large. The maximum penalty for a conviction is three years in prison.

The charges are the latest voting controversy to roil Orange County. In a separate case, the campaign of Sanchez’s Republican opponent, Tan Nguyen, has been linked to intimidating letters sent to registered voters with Hispanic last names .

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